After a wonderful 3 days in the stunning city of Lucca we are now sitting on a graffiti clad regional train heading to Viareggio, a seaside city in Tuscany and we are looking forward to some serious chill out time! Some 30 minutes later we are checking in at the rather lovely Palace Hotel a magnificent residence located on the Lungomare of Viareggio and the lovely chap on reception has just upgraded us to a room with a sea view, great start…
First-up after our gruelling 30 minute train journey (!!) we decide to check out the roof-top terrace at the hotel and talk about a terrace with view! To the front we have a bird’s eye view of the endless Versilian Coast line, a beautiful 10km of sandy beach with what must be thousands of deck chairs on it in every colour of the rainbow. In contrast, to the rear we are afforded spectacular views of the Apuan Alps, a mountain range in the northern Tuscany, it is simply stunning.
After washing down a Campari Spritz whilst admiring the view from the terrace we decide to head out and see just what Viareggio has to offer. We start by taking a lovely stroll along “La Passeggiata” which began to take shape in the 20th century and is 3 km long. Essentially it is a wide road running alongside the beach which is full of ‘liberty style’ designer clothes stores, gelato shops, cafes, bars and restaurants and of course people enjoying a good old Italian style ‘passeggiata’ otherwise known as a leisurely walk and pose! At first sight I am not sure what to make of it all, it feels very ‘American’ with the broad walkways, mall style shops and diner style restaurants but hey it is day 1 and I am sure it will grow on me!
Next up is a trip to the beach and thankfully our hotel has one they recommend to their guests, ‘La Pace’. I say thankfully as otherwise I have no idea how you would even start to choose which one of the many ‘bathing’ establishments to settle down at! Having never experienced an Italian ‘Bagno’ before I am really impressed. The beach area is spotless, there is a swimming pool with sun deck, tents, umbrellas, deck chairs galore, showers, toilets and a wonderfully rustic restaurant overlooking the beach! The deck chairs are positioned with precision, the sand has actually been raked into position and the sea looks extremely inviting.
Our first evening is spent taking another stroll down La Passeggiata with a pit stop at the wonderful Gran Caffe Margherita where apparently Giacomo Puccini was a regular patron! The building which originally opened in 1902 is Art Nouveau and pretty spectacular both inside and out and with a fine array of drinks it is the perfect place to simply watch the world go by.
Day 2 and there is only one thing for it, a day at the beach taking in some vitamin D! Off we trot to Bagno La Pace once again armed with our ‘standard issue’ blue beach towels courtesy of the hotel. It is another cracking day and as we stroll along the seafront with the waves lapping, the gleaming white sand and the backdrop of the Alps it is safe to say, despite my earlier reservations, that Viareggio is actually pretty perfect!
Whilst on the beach my favourite friend, TripAdvisor and I have done some serious research and I am now brimming with ideas for lunch and dinner for the rest of the holiday! Today however we are going to try out Beach Restaurant Florida which is oh about five bagno’s down the strip opposite the Grand Hotel Royal. This is a wonderful little place with tables and chairs literally on the sand and a beautifully designed indoor restaurant which looks like the front of a ship. The seafood is absolutely amazing as is the rose wine and the staff are super friendly and welcoming.
Later in the evening we meander down La Passeggiata Italian style once again and come across a wonderful marina with what can only be described as a home to yachts to die for! Viareggio is actually renowned around the world for its shipping building and you get a real sense of an active industry at the harbour area. The marina has a lovely pier that you can walk along with the most spectacular statue on a wall looking out to the sea. The statue is called l’attesa and is a piece of art that depicts the plight of a sailor family when he is far out at sea. The marina is also home to La Barchina, fish and fried which is a moored boat selling fresh seafood and fish and chips. You can even wash it down with a mini bottle of wine or a beer which is sold on the boat!
Tonight’s dinner spot is in the old dock area of Viareggio which has a very different feel about it to the bustling promenade area, it is slightly run down, less touristy but houses some fantastic restaurants including Bar Trattoria Nostromo. The menu is very fish orientated and every plate that comes out of the kitchen looks fantastic. We opt for the Padella Del Nostromo which my hubby describes as a fish hot pot which is not a bad description! Essentially you get a load of fish in a lovely sauce with bread all round served to you in a massive metal frying pan! It is delicious!
Day 3 and it is 7am and I am super excited as we are going to visit the ‘Cinque Terre’. This is the highlight of our Italian Adventure and our whole trip has been created around my bucket list desire to visit the ‘5 lands’! We have a driver booked, a loose itinerary and are sharing the trip with an American couple who are staying at another hotel. The pick up is 8am and I am hanging about the hotel entrance ready for our next adventure, 8.15am comes no pick-up, 8.30am still not sign, 8.35am I notice an email from the driver sent at 7am to say his car has broken down and we won’t be going today!
Gutted doesn’t even begin to describe my emotions at that point, the whole reason I wanted to do this trip was to visit the Cinque Terre! My hubby sensing my massive disappointment swiftly came up with a plan b and marched me off to the local cycle hire shop! Not exactly my idea of an alternative to the grand tour of the Cinque Terre but it did put a stop to my imminent tears… And actually we had an amazing day cycling round the whole of the city from one end to the other. Viareggio has fantastic cycle lanes and is completely flat so it is a real pleasure to cycle round. We started our grand tour of Viareggio at the Pineta di Levante which is an amazing park a few streets back from the seafront. It has dogs, cyclists, walkers, kids playgrounds, bike hire, pony rides, gelato stops and with its lovely canopy of trees offers some welcome shade from the summer sun! Next we headed along the coast line to Lido di Camaiore which is home to a lovely big wheel and although this area is an extension of Viareggio it has a more relaxed, quieter and less brash feel to it.
Next we take a change of direction and cycle back along the full length of the promenade and head out of town to cycle round the forest area Sentiero della Lecciona. This is a beautiful place, slightly bumpy at times on the bike but well worth seeking out, it also takes you via some of the more residential and non-tourist areas of Viareggio so you start to get a sense of what local life looks like. And we stumbled across a lovely fish market whilst heading round the marina. The fish was literally just caught and fisherman and women were lined up and down the marina with their catch of the day. After 3 hours cycling (and a puncture along the way) I feel suitably ‘over’ my disappointment of the cancelled trip and am looking forward to spending a well earner afternoon at the beach!
Our dining venue tonight, La Barrachina was spotted during our cycling trip, it is a gorgeous setting on the edge of the marina and is also absolutely jam-packed full of Italians, always a good sign! There is a massive queue which speaks volumes and the wanna be diners in it are placated with glasses of wine whilst waiting – what a fab idea, saluti!
So it is our last day in Viareggio and I think it is fair to say that our stay has been magical and actually I have fallen in love with this place even despite the Cinque Terre trip disaster! We are flying out of Pisa so part 3 of our Italian Adventure is to head there and see just how much we can do in the 3.5 hours! Ciao!